The comforts of home
With all the benefits of freedom camping, namely price. There are nights where you need something nicer- more homely. For Tam, she can’t go too long without a shower (or maybe a swim). About three days is the longest she can stretch on baby wipes. The shower in a plastic bag has been a blessing apart from the waste that it accumulates. For the budget conscious cycle traveller, there is an overwhelming community of cyclists out there who understand these issues and are more than willing to offer a bed, a shower, washing or even a pitch for weary travellers. Warmshowers.org is a not for profit organisation, much like couchsurfing that puts like minded cycle travelers together. You pay it forward, as a host before or after your travels. Many go on to host many travelers, expressing the mantra of hospitality and fellowship.
Using the Website
Using a web application (in our experience, the website is much better than the app) you can search your locale or points along your route for accommodation. The better organised you are, the more chance you have in advance of finding accommodation. Our friend Dan put us onto Warmshowers before his trip and at first, it sounded like some dodgy website. But once you actually get into touring, you realise why the name is so apt. It is the one luxury that you relish the most.
We’ve been members since June and hosted our first traveller; Graham in London on his first stop of a journey across Europe. He bought his bike, gear, everything when he arrived and set off within a few days. Clearly an experienced traveller. Lucky we had such understanding flatmates as he slept on the lounge floor.
Bike Storage and First (only) Trouble
It took us over a month to use Warmshowers and we planned about 3 weeks in advance a place to store our bikes while we were running around Mont Blanc. Rafal, our host, was relaxed and would get back to us after a few days. Too relaxed it seemed! We turned up to his house and he wasn’t there, didn’t answer his phone, or any messages that day on Warmshowers. It was 8:30 and it admittedly got a little tense for our first experience.
How were we going to find a place at short notice to store our bikes for a week?! I put out an emergency URGENT: STORAGE NEEDED on Warmshowers and another host, also named Raf, answered our call. It was a sprint (a steep sprint at that – Lausanne is the San Francisco of Europe) to his place. He was out, but his flatmates he introduced to both us over WhattsApp and also the concept of Warmshowers in a few minutes. We hadn’t organised any accommodation (as our priority was storage only), but they offered us their couch to stay on and welcomed us when we got back. It was like striking gold! The original Rafal later messaged at 10pm, he had gotten back from skiing and remembered he was hosting us. Too late, but well intended.
Our faith restored fully in the spirit of Warmshowers – we decided to give it more of a chance. Switzerland is a relatively expensive country at best for rooms and they understood why we would want to find cheaper alternatives.
Several days later, we planned to be at Lake Thon. So we messaged ahead. Our particular trick for getting engagement is to read the peoples bios. Some don’t and get little response. Taking the time to know who you are contacting goes a long way. We added extra filters to the search criteria and searched for the terms “NZ” and “New Zealand”. This query turned up most travelers who had gone to our home country and as we figured, may be more inclined to repay kind hospitality to a couple of Kiwi’s in their own country. In general, most would always respond regardless.
We were taken in by Nicole and stayed in our own room on the shores of Lake Thon. It was an idyllic Swiss town and perfect for the night. They greeted us with blackberries that were just picked. We arrived after dinner to avoid much hassle as we didn’t want to inconvenience much and left early after bircher muesli.
Lodging in Lucerne
The second accommodation in the city of Lucerne with Julia and Roger was an introduction into some serious cycle tourists. The house was a shrine to their travels. Photo’s all around the world, from South America to NZ, Europe and the steppes of Asia. They had traveled over 40,000 km, enough to circumnavigate the world. We were given our own room and our clothes washed and dried in the loft. They told us that most of their Warmshowers guests were in fact Korean. This surprised us as we never picked Korea as having a strong cycling culture, but one to look up.
Onwards into Germany, we had arranged well in advance bike storage in Munich while we took a ten day break to see two weddings in France and Poland. Ralph and his wife Jennifer were US expats almost a year settling into their new home of Munich, Germany. Despite the obvious language barriers, they were learning the language and local customs fast. Ralph being retired had a lot of spare time and was able to show us around the city while Tam looked for her Oktoberfest dirndl. We were not only cooked dinner, but also helped with every part of our itinerary.
Pizza in Pienza
Making our way through Tuscany we had a hard few nights of rain (almost every night) and despite only short days riding it became a bit too much. A night of good rest and a shower was sorely needed. Florian, a German staying at his parents’ spectacular villa in Pienza answered our call.
The house had its own olive grove and they were preparing the place for the harvest. Fifteen people were on their way the next week. With his friend, he had built a compost toilet, a charcoal pit and most importantly – a pizza oven. We brought along a few toppings and stayed up for hours baking pizzas. Here we were reminded of cycling being one of the more eco-friendly methods of travel and the warm hospitality you get on the road. Florian had toured through to Iran and nobly believed against air travel, something we have found particularly hard to forego coming from New Zealand.
A few odds and sods on Warmshowers
Warmshowers, like any community does have its strange cousins… One host who we looked up for a night stay had the following bio:
“Hi, I’m [name omitted] from [place omitted], i live in country side with beautyfull view of [place omitted] not far to the center want to try my first trip by bicycle, i want To meet people and To talk about it. Im not vegetarian, im not smok, i don’t have pet and im not allergic, for this kind of people i can offer also the sauna in my house, an later i can give you a good massage after your trip by bicycle.. i can host 1 person and i dont host for one night and you have to share the bed with me. Im naturist person i like to stay freedom in my house, in summer specia i like stay in naked. If you dont like this kind of life style please dont ask for stay in my place. Thanks”
If he was to add another sentence it would basically be: “And you must sleep with me”. It seems there are personals ads in many places. Being a couple and because we were not up for more than one night of orgy, we were probably not welcome in his bed. But as before, it reminds you to always read the bios before making contact.
When using Warmshowers, I can commend that hosts are incredibly warm and welcoming. We try to not arrive empty handed with at least a bottle of local wine at hand. Most understand that if you have had a long 100km day, you may be a bit tired. Some may be ambitious future travelers like ourselves, but there are plenty of thoroughly experienced travelers, mechanics and cooks you can also depend on.
Stay with us
Our Warmshowers ID is 116291. We are going to activate it when home and hopefully persuade our parents to accept some travelers. Once we have a place of our own, we would love to host cyclists. How you stay is up to you, but extending the warm hospitality shown to us is the least we can do.